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An Unexpected Encounter With Marie Antoinette


If you have visited my other blog, On Life, Love and Accidental Adventures, you know that I believe in serendipity and delight in the unexpected pleasures of travel.

Several years ago, I was in New Orleans attending a writers conference when I had an unexpected encounter with Marie Antoinette. 

No, we did not collide into each other while jostling for a seat in the ever-crowded Cafe du Monde (Though had we met there, I like to believe we would have become fast friends while sharing a table and plate of beignets).

We met at the New Orleans Museum of Art. 

In desperate need of a respite from the exhuastive, endless swirl of conference activities, I hopped in a cab and headed to the museum.

I was climbing up the wide, marble stairs that lead to the French Gallery when I saw her...

...or rather, a portrait of her.

The portrait hung in the entrance to the French Gallery, stretching nearly from floor to ceiling.  For a moment, the size of the canvas, life-like features of the subject, and subtle museum lighting fooled me into thinking I had somehow stepped through a portal in time and into the artist's atelier.  I could almost smell the oily paints, hear the scratching of brush against canvas.

Vigée Lebrun painted the oil on canvas portrait of the queen in 1788, after receiving a commission from the King's younger brother, the Comte d'Artois.

The New Orleans Museum of Art purchased Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Lebrun's Portrait of Marie Antoinette in 1985 with funds raised by the Women's Volunteer Committee and the Carrie Heidrick Fund.

Later, I spoke with Jennifer Ickes, one of NOMA's curators, who told me that the portrait was a big purchase and a major piece of their French Collection. 

"It is the largest painting in the gallery and commands attention," she said.

Ickes also told me that the painting has not  been restored recently but could use a little work on the frame, which is the original frame.  She also said that the painting survived Hurricane Katrina, suffering mildly from humidity issues.

After Katrina, the portrait traveled as part of a benefit exhibition.  Since the exhibition, it has been reinstalled in its place of honor.

In case you are wondering, Antoinette keeps very good company in New Orleans.  Hanging on a nearby wall is Antoine-François Callet's spectacular portrait of Louis XVI.

If you would like to learn more about the Vigee Lebrun portrait hanging in the NOMA, you can purchase their catalog, The Odyssey Continues: Masterworks from the New Orleans Museum of Art and from Private New Orleans Collections.

To read more about the portraits of Elizabeth-Louise Vigee Lebrun, read my article, A Rainy Morning With A Master.

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6 comments:

  1. I must be in New Orleans for business and plan on visiting that museum just to see her portrait. Thank you thank you for telling me about this. I mean, writing about this. I guess you were not just telling only me. LOL

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  2. Serendipity is a wonderful companion, and your companion it is! That Vigee-le-brun painting of MA is one, if not, my favorite of her, probably because of the simplicity of it all. No big fanfare with the dress, or even the decor, just MA reading a book (I wonder which one!), and enjoying a quiet moment...Never got to that museum, but maybe one day :)

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  3. Woah, that painting is from floor to ceiling?! It sure does command attention, doesn't it? :) Thanks for the links. Have a lovely day.

    XoX Sandy

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  4. Your blog is truly wonderful. I have learned so much about Marie-Antoinette. I can't wait to return and read your next post.

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  5. I too had a run in with Marie Antoinette! It was at Biltmore house in Ashville, NC her picture was in one of the bedrooms!Of course not an original but a copy Louis was right next to her!

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  6. I would love to have seen that! How exhilarating it would have been, you are an amazing story teller by the way. I can sense how exiting it would have been. :)

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You have left a comment on my blog! Merci beaucoup! I hope to you will visit Titillating Facts About the Life and Times of Marie Antoinette again soon! Until then...au revoir and bonne chance!